Upping the ante

Published 10:28 am Tuesday, February 21, 2017

SEABOARD – Officials with VistaGreen have announced a pair of key incentives for local property owners as they attempt to rally support for the company’s plans to construct and operate a pair of coal ash landfills near this Northampton County town.

Last week, Clarence Mann Jr., the son of VistaGreen majority owner Clarence Mann, said while the company stands firm behind their claim that the landfills will not pose any environmental issues, they have devised a way to ease the minds of those property owners living near the site.

Mann stated VistaGreen will provide the funding to pay the tap fees for those residences wishing to switch from private wells to Northampton County’s public water system.

“We feel certain that by using the newest and best technology to line these landfills with a durable, synthetic liner, they will not leak into the groundwater,” said Mann. “However, in order to give the residents near the site some peace of mind, if they are currently drawing their water from a private well and wish to switch over to the county’s public water system, we are willing to pay the tap fee.”

According to the Northampton County Public Works Department, the cost of providing a new residential tap into the water system is $850.

Mann also announced another incentive.

“At some point after the project is improved and in operation, should a property located near the landfill be placed on the market for sale and it has lost value from the period of time before the landfill was there, VistaGreen will make up the difference between the former and current property value,” he said.

Mann added that in both incentives, the property is required to be within a “reasonable distance” from the landfills.

These incentives come after the father and son discussed other attributes of the project during an interview last week with the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald.

The Manns said Northampton County local government benefits financially to the tune of almost $2 million per year….$920,000 in tax revenue and the host fee/franchise fee paid to the county (to operate the facility) is $1 million annually for 12-to-15 years.

Mann Sr. stressed the ancillary jobs he said will come with this project.

“We’re got to maintain this site for 30 years….it’s over $50,000 per year just to cut the grass,” he stated “We’ll have 75 people working there every day and there’s no where to eat breakfast and lunch. Someone could bring in a food wagon and be very successful. We’ll have office space there, so we’ll need to hire a cleaning crew.”

Mann also mentioned that local businesses, existing or new, could profit on the mechanical upkeep of the fleet of trucks used at the site….tires, gas, oil changes, mechanic work, etc.

The father-son stressed the landfills will be built using the newest technology.

“The coal ash landfills of today, to include the ones we’re proposing, are built to current EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) codes. In the past there were no such regulations,” said Mann Jr.

Mann Sr. stated, “When we had our (public) meetings in Seaboard a few weeks ago, I got a feeling that those in attendance didn’t understand about how our landfill is totally different from any of those old, unlined sites – from 50, 60, 70 years ago – that were built long before today’s technology. Those sites failed and leaked. Plus, all those old landfills were built near rivers. The technology back then was dig a hole and throw the coal ash in the hole.”

Another safety feature are several monitoring wells to be constructed at the site.

“They encircle the site; by state standards they are supposed to be tested for water quality twice a year, but we promise to monitor them once a month,” Mann Sr. noted. “If there is any type of problem, the monitoring wells will catch it and we can immediately address it and fix it.”

As far as the protective liner, Mann Sr. explained that when it is initially laid on top of a three-foot compacted clay barrier (before the first load of coal ash is dumped), they are heat-sealed and then pressure is applied to ensure they do not leak.

Additionally, each landfill contains a drainage layer with a leachate collection system. Mann Jr. said that layer collects surface run-off water and directs it to one of several lined holding ponds.

The engineering plans include an enclosed building where the rail cars and brought in and the coal ash is unloaded into a holding pit and is slightly wet down.

“That controls the dust,” Mann Sr. stated.

The project is currently on hold after the application for a special use permit was pulled by the company earlier this month. Mann Sr. said that was done in order for VistaGreen to address public concerns about the project.

“We needed some time to clear up some misconceptions, some misinformation, about this project,” stated Mann Sr. “We can reapply for the same permit at any time, but for right now we’re using this delay to perform advocacy work in the community. I’m the majority owner; I need to be out front, the face of this project, and let the citizens know the facts about this project.”

The landfills are being proposed for an 804-acre tract of land off High Bridge Road between Seaboard and Margarettsville. VistaGreen, based in Raleigh, purchased that land in December of 2015. The company applied for a special use permit last month.

About Cal Bryant

Cal Bryant, a 40-year veteran of the newspaper industry, serves as the Editor at Roanoke-Chowan Publications, publishers of the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald, Gates County Index, and Front Porch Living magazine.

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